Tag Archives: ageism

Advertising, age and the #maninthemoon

Man on the moonYou may as well try to hold back the tide as ignore the cultural message-making that surrounds the Man In The Moon John Lewis ad.  It’s still all over twitter like a cheap suit, the marketeers have plastered LinkedIn with comments pro- and anti- and newspapers with space to fill are commissioning pieces about what it says about loneliness.  So I’m sacrificing the high ground, and joining in.  Here are just some of the things I hate about the advert – as though it matters – with inspiration from the ghost of semiotician Roland Barthes, born 100 years ago this very week:

  1. The stereotypical portrayal of older people. The old man is lonely, sad and needs rescuing by a child. Undoubtedly many older people are extremely lonely, but many are not.  We could do with some positive images in adverts as well as the helpless and isolated.  Why couldn’t he have been befriended by the child’s granny?  She could be a happy, smiley woman who’s central to her own extended family. She could help the child make sense of the old man’s plight – and suggest how to help.
  2. It’s a non-solution solution to loneliness.  The present sent to the old man allows him to look in through the window of the child’s house. He’s clearly not invited to join the family for tea. This probably makes the givers (us) feel a whole lot better than the receiver who is, after all, still left out in the cold. Maybe a very long slide from the John Lewis toy department could have been extended to his lonely eerie by smiley Granny and they could have slid back to the Christmas party together in a daring whoosh of jollity, fun, and a flash of support stockings. But would bringing him into the house have raised too many awkward issues about how far we are actually prepared to go to alleviate loneliness at Christmas?
  3. Marketing trumps social conscience. I strongly suspect that, however well Age UK will do out of the ad, John Lewis will do a whole lot better. Age UK doesn’t get a name check anywhere on the advert. It will benefit from a ‘text £5’ fundraising campaign and from 25% of the sales of a mug with the campaign logo on it. There’s a range of other stuff available which is linked to the campaign, but it looks like Age UK only get a cut of the profits on the mug and a card. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with John Lewis wanting to make money at Christmas.  I just feel a bit queasy about the holier than thou tone it takes while it’s doing it.
  4. Worthiness trumps fun.  There’s not a hint of wit or laughter or real warmth in the whole 2 minutes.  Nothing to make me crack a smile never mind make me feel well disposed to the notion of Christmas shopping. Next year, John Lewis, your challenge is not to alleviate suffering or bring world peace, it’s to make me smile. Go on. I dare you.
  5. As previously stated. It’s an advert. For a shop. Designed to make us buy stuff at Christmas.  I hate it for dragging me into its self-satisfied orbit.  It needs to get over itself.

If you want to make a donation directly to Age UK, by the way, you can do it here.

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Experience never gets old – a lesson from Hollywood?

20150929060100!The_Intern_PosterI have been spending far more time than is healthy thinking about the tag- line to the new De Niro film, The Intern. “Experience never gets old”.

What on earth does it mean?

The Experience thing I get. In the film De Niro is a 70-year old returning to work as an intern – no doubt with hilarious consequences. (I haven’t seen the film, I have no idea.) He has lots of experience. You could replace the E-word with Wisdom maybe, or Maturity – although the idea that Maturity never gets old sounds even weirder.

It’s the old bit I don’t get. What does it mean? Experience is never out of date – demonstrably wrong: my experience of using fax machines in the 1990s is pretty old hat these days. Experience never goes stale – ditto.  Experience never ages – still meaningless.  I have a feeling that the subtext here is: it’s OK to be old and still go to work – look old people have things to offer too! I have changed my mind three times in the last ten minutes trying to decide whether – if that is the message – it’s a patronising or a positive one. But it only works if  the very notion of being old is undesirable – as if what they were really trying to say was Experience never has a senior moment and forgets where it put the scissors but they knew that just didn’t sound right.

“It’s only the poster for a Hollywood film” I hear you cry. “Lighten up.”

But a) in Hollywood terms I’m as old as the hills and extremely sensitive to implied ageism; and b) I’m a copywriter.  Words matter. Also, because I’m a copywriter, I know that every syllable of every word on that poster has been carefully thought about and focus-grouped by a crack team of writers, publicists and designers – none of this stuff happens by accident, or because that was just the best they could come up with before the print deadline.

So, Experience never gets old means something to someone.  But what?

#everydayageism – what’s the brand of the over-50s?

As I got closer to my 50th birthday I started to collect newspaper stories about the over-50s.  I was going to put them into a light-hearted post with some self-deprecating jokes about putting the punk LPs into storage now I am old enough to go to tea dances, and how I’ll soon need help getting out of the bath.

Then I hit 50 and the joke started wearing thin. I deleted the links I’d saved.  I wish I’d kept them, there were some crackers in there which, radicalised by the recent  Age of No Retirement conference  I could send to the #everydayageism campaign, calling out examples of ageism in the media.  I might start by sending them this from yesterday’s Guardian readers’ Q&A with Tracey Emin:

#everydayageism

Why “old dears”? – and why shouldn’t they be within touching distance of a Tracey Emin exhibition?

What’s the brand of the over-50s?

In an advertising-drenched age we are used to weighing-up brands whenever we make a purchase.  What’s the brand image of the over-50s?  What values do you associate with being older? I bet it’s not powerful and dynamic, sexy or daring. And that matters.

“We live in an age where people pity older people and think old women are funny”

commented  one debater in a session at the Age of No Retirement conference. That might explain why 2.9million people between 50 and state pension age are currently out of work in the UK, even though  many of them would love to carry on working – “employers can smell 50”, as one delegate commented, ruefully.

Bring on the language police

Mary Beard was reported recently calling for the word ‘old’ to be reclaimed:

“I think about it in terms of other kinds of reclamations of vocabulary we’ve had over the years, such as ‘black’ or ‘queer”

She has a way to go. I can think of lots of uses of “old”, none positive – old dear, old fart, old fogey, old maid, old codger.  All of them imply staidness – a certain stuck in the mud quality. Doddery-ness.  You don’t think of an innovative old dear, an open-minded old codger, an entrepreneurial old bat.

I think old bag has possibilities.  I like the idea of embracing my inner battle-axe. But if we’re going to establish “old” as a positive thing – or even a neutral one – we may have to think about banning the others.  And while we’re at it, can we do something about some of the other words used about the over-50s?  So, no more “silver” (-surfers or -foxes) and a pox on “sprightly” and “young at heart” .

I’m torn about the use of the word “grey” –  as in “grey pound” or  “grey vote”. Even though grey has been having a bit of a fashion moment recently, it’s hardly a signifier of passion and energy.  Anyway, I don’t spend a grey pound, I spend a shiny gold one, just like everybody else.  But if we are going to start making advertisers think about the over-50s as anything other than Wonga grannies or knitters of Shreddies, perhaps we have to use the power of the “grey” consumer and flex some financial muscle.   £1 in every £5 spent on the high street comes from people over 55 – and there’s good news for marketers, apparently  talking to old people doesn’t have to be scary:

Reassuringly, not everything needs to change when targeting 51-70 year olds – they are not that different to younger consumers. Our research shows older consumers are just as willing to change their views, behaviours, brand, and category choices as younger generations. They are also just as likely to spend money and the drivers behind purchases are similar: 51-70 year olds want the best quality, an acceptable price, and a brand that won’t let them down.

Who’d have thought it?